1795 - 1869

photograph of Johns Hopkins Hospital
Johns Hopkins Hospital



Portrait of Johns Hopkins, Maryland State Archives

Johns Hopkins was born on an Anne Arundel County tobacco plantation on May 19, 1795. His education was interrupted when his Quaker parents freed their slaves and sent their two oldest sons to work in the family's fields. Johns and his brother continued their education at home in the evening hours after their chores were finished. Hopkins survived an attack of cholera and witnessed the effects of epidemics of smallpox and yellow fever that struck Baltimore. Like John McDonogh, he gave little indication during his lifetime that he had generous plans for his fortune.

After working for a time in his uncle's wholesale grocery business, Johns went into business for himself, taking as a partner a Quaker friend, Benjamin Moore, establishing Hopkins and Moore (which later became Hopkins & Brothers). Hopkins & Brothers sent Conestoga wagons loaded with wares and "Hopkins' Best" corn whiskey into the Shenandoah Valley. Hopkins later turned to banking. He invested in the B&O Railroad, became a director and then chairman of its finance committee. Twice, in 1857 and in 1873, he put up his own fortune to save the B&O Railroad from bankruptcy. 

Hopkins' obsession with making money was often the source of good-natured taunts. One of his fellow merchants, George Peabody, claimed that Hopkins was the only man he'd ever met that was more anxious to make money and determined to succeed than he was himself. Like Peabody, Hopkins felt an obligation to give back to the city where he had made his fortune. 

Like many Baltimore businessmen, Johns Hopkins took an interest in the work of local artists. In 1832 Hopkins commissioned a young Baltimore painter named Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874) to paint portraits of his mother, Mrs. Samuel Hopkins, and himself. Miller painted his most outstanding work, The Trapper's Bride, for Hopkins, who purchased the work in 1856. Support from wealthy Baltimoreans like Hopkins made it possible for Miller to go to Europe in 1833 to continue his training as an artist.

The Johns Hopkins University, ca 1895

When Johns Hopkins died on Christmas Eve 1873, he left his fortune of $8 million to found a university and hospital. Hopkins' will stated that the hospital was to "compare favorably with any institution of like character in this country or in Europe" and, remarkably for its time, the hospital was to treat "the poor of this city and state, of all races." This was at the time the largest bequest in U. S. history. Hopkins' bequest also established a home in Baltimore County for African-American children.